The Iowa Reboot

The electoral debacle in this year’s Iowa caucus has had one positive effect:  it has made other states carefully examine their election processes, in hopes that they won’t become “the next Iowa.”  In Nevada, for example, officials took a hard look at the 2020 Iowa caucus and made several changes to the planned Nevada caucus procedure, including getting rid of apps that were going to be used and going instead to paper ballots.  Even so, many people have concerns about the Nevada caucus, which starts in a few days.

states-with-same-day-registrationIn Ohio, where the primary won’t occur until next month, the concern isn’t about apps, caucus rules, or complicated vote-counting procedures.  Instead, some people are questioning whether the turnout in Ohio elections should cause Ohio to address a more fundamental issue:  the process for registering to vote and then voting.

This article from the Executive Director of the ACLU of Ohio frames the issue.  It notes that the turnout in the 2018 mid-term elections in Ohio was about 50 percent of registered voters, placing the Buckeye State’s participation percentage at 29th out of the 50 states.  The turnout by voters in the 18 to 24 group was especially pathetic.

But, what causes low turnout?  The ACLU director rejects the possibility that some citizens simply lack interest, and instead contends that Ohio’s procedures discourage participation.  He advocates for abolishing the Ohio requirement that voters register at least 30 days before an election in favor of allowing “same day” registration and voting, and argues that would-be voters should be able to register at Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles offices.  He also supports making sure that early voting — a process that Ohio already follows — provides for ample evening and weekend hours and simple absentee procedures to allow people who work two jobs, live in remote areas, are homebound, or are serving in the armed forces overseas to cast their ballots without a hassle.

I’m in favor of taking a fresh look at Ohio’s procedures and auditing the elections in other states that have different procedures to see whether Ohio’s processes can be simplified and improved.  I have to admit, however, that I’m leery of same day registration and voting, which seems like a recipe for Election Day chaos and potential fraud — and therefore I’m particularly interested at an objective look at how that option has worked in other states.  I also wonder at the most fundamental premise in the ACLU director’s article:  if a voter can’t be bothered to register at least 30 days before an election, is it really the procedure that is keeping that voter from the polls, or is it good old-fashioned voter apathy, instead?

Two-Step Voting

Our election on Tuesday involved a very limited ballot; we voted for Mayor (where the incumbent was running unopposed, which tells you something about the low-key politics in Columbus), City Council seats, a few judges, and a tax levy.  Not surprisingly, turnout was low — which made it a good election to roll out a new, two-step voting system.

3002712465_fa843110d0_zAs an old codger who cut his voting teeth on old metal machines where you moved a bar in one direction to close the curtain, depressed levers to expose a mark next to the candidate of your choice, and then moved the bar back to register your vote with a thunk and open the curtains again, I’m used to changes in the voting process.  I’ve probably voted using about 10 different systems over the years.

The new process involves multiple steps.  After first going to the registration people, showing your driver’s license and signing in, you get a piece of paper that you then present to one of the voting volunteers.  They lead you to a machine, explain the new process, and scan you in.  After you vote on the machine, a paper ballot is printed out, and you walk over to a different area to deposit your completed ballot into a secure box.  The last step is new.  Apparently the new system was introduced to enhance voting security and also to better comply with federal law on accommodating people with disabilities.

The new process worked just fine . . . in an election where the turnout was low and there were no lines to speak of.  But I wonder what it will be like in 2020, where there is likely to be a huge, perhaps even historic, turnout — which is probably one of the few things people at every point on the political spectrum can agree on.  There will be a line to get to the registration table, and then a line to wait for a voting official to walk you to a machine and scan you in, and then presumably wait, again, to deposit your ballot into the secure box.

It’s probably going to be a zoo, which makes me wonder whether I should just plan on doing early voting when the 2020 election rolls around.  It probably would be less of a hassle, but I’m resisting that because I like gathering with my fellow citizens, waiting patiently and solemnly and thinking about what I’m doing, and then exercising my franchise and getting my voting sticker.  It makes me feel good about myself and my country, and I’m not sure that I’m ready to give up that uplifting, shared experience.  At the same time, I’m not sure I’m ready for a three-hour wait in an election where passions will be running at their highest, either.

A Day Of Expectancy

The polling place in my neighborhood opens at 6:30 Eastern time this morning.  I’ll be there then, ready to exercise my franchise in this election — the latest election to be called The Most Important Election in American History.

vote_here_signs_0By voting on Election Day, I’m late to the game these days.  Many of my friends, colleagues and family members have already voted.  Richard has cast his ballot down in Texas, where early voting numbers have set records, and that’s true in other parts of the country, too.  I think early voting is a great thing, because it provides flexibility and allows more people to participate in the process in accordance with their work and family schedules.  Still, I prefer voting on Election Day itself.  The lines might be a little longer, but there is just something about being at the polls with your fellow citizens, waiting patiently and quietly to have your turn in the voting booth, without accompanying rancor or bluster.  There’s a certain solemnity to it, and a certain majesty, too.  It always makes me feel good about myself, my community, and my country.

I also like Election Day because it is a day of expectancy.  As the day unfolds, you know that millions of little, individual decisions are happening all around you that are slowly producing big, important results.  It’s like a titanic machine with countless small parts, moving ponderously but inexorably in one direction or another — and we’re the little gears and sprockets and cogs that make it go.  Whether we agree with the decisions or not, by the end of the day today we’ll have a pretty good idea of what our fellow citizens are thinking about the country and its direction.

And, especially recently, I like Election Day for yet another reason:  because after today, all of the commercials and predictions and fanfare will be over, at least for a little while, and we can have some breathing space before we start gearing up for the next Most Important Election in American History.  I think we can use some breathing space.

“Off Year”

This year it’s what they call an “off year” election in Ohio. That means we’re not voting for President, or Governor, or Senator, or Members of Congress, or any statewide offices.

I hate that phrase, because it suggests that certain elections are more important than others. I don’t think that’s the case. This year, for example, Columbus residents voted for City Council, the school board, other city offices, and some state court judges. If you believe, as I do, that politics is local, those are some pretty important positions, and I’m glad I had the chance to vote for my choices. And the “off year” elections often are the ones where supporters of this or that try to sneak ballot initiatives past listless voters. That’s not going to happen on my watch!

Some people say “off year” elections are too expensive, but I disagree with that, too. Expecting citizens to go to the polls at least once a year in November to exercise the most important right of all isn’t asking much, and it’s worth a few bucks. If people can’t get off their butts and vote, shame on them.

Long Lines In Ohio

When I got to my voting place at the Schiller Park Rec Center today, I found the longest line I’ve ever seen at a voting place.  This is just the end of it — inside it winds around the corridors of the building like a line for an amusement park ride, where you find a new section of line just as you think you’re getting to the the end.  Total wait time is estimated at 45 minutes to an hour — but everyone is waiting patiently and with good humor.

This is my first presidential election at this voting place, so I can’t make a turnout comparison to past election.  I can say that it makes me feel good to see so many people exercising their franchise, even in an election like this one.  Democracy is a wonderful thing!

Making Up Your Mind: Voting Based On Naked Self Interest

Recently I went out to lunch with Dr. Science.  As has happened in many conversations this year, talk turned to the election.  Dr. Science knows that I am struggling with the decision on who to vote for, and he made an interesting pitch in his ongoing effort to get me to overcome my deep misgivings and vote for Hillary Clinton.

The argument was stated with clinical, Dr. Science-like rationality:  (1) we’ve both worked hard for years to save money for retirement; (2) almost all of our retirement savings is invested in the financial markets; (3) it seems as though everyone involved with the financial markets is forecasting a massive stock market plunge if Trump is elected and a stock market increase if Clinton is elected; and (4) why wouldn’t you want to cast your vote to affirmatively select someone whose election would not crush the value of your retirement savings?

francois_de_la_rochefoucauld_loneliness_2247In effect, Dr. Science was arguing that undecided voters should focus on their own, naked self-interest and vote for whichever candidate they believed would most benefit them personally.  I found his straightforward candor refreshing.  The conversation reminded me of the scene in Field of Dreams where Ray, after having built the baseball park in his corn field, suffered the sarcasm of his neighbors, and risked losing his farm, asks the ghostly ballplayers:  “I’m not saying ‘What’s in it for me’ but . . . what’s in it for me?”

I’ve never voted for a candidate based on how I thought it would affect me, personally —  I’ve always tried to vote for the candidate who I thought would do the best job for the country as a whole.  There’s something that strikes me as unseemly about focusing solely on self-interest in deciding how to vote.  And yet, with the awful choice presented in this election, maybe naked self-interest should be permitted to tip the balance between voting for someone and not voting at all.

My conversation with Dr. Science was one of several conversations I’ve had with people about deciding how to vote — conversations that I’ve never had before because I’ve always made up my mind early and never wavered.  I’ll write about some of the other conversations in the few remaining hours before Election Day arrives.

“Special” Elections And Manipulation

Today is August 2.  In central Ohio, we’re in the midst of the dog days of summer, when the temperatures hit the 90s, the air is heavy and moist, and walking outside leaves you sodden and sapped of energy.  It’s not the time of year you associate with elections.  But today we’ve got a “special election,” anyway.

voting-machine“Special” might not be the right word.  In Columbus, we’re being asked to vote on precisely one thing:  Issue 1, a proposed amendment to the Columbus city charter that would change the configuration and methods for electing members of Columbus city council.  There won’t be any federal or state offices, or down ballot judicial races, or school levies, or anything else on the ballot.  It will be the quickest exercise in voting, ever.

I’ll be going to the polls, because I’m against Issue 1 and because I think voting is an important civic duty.  Still, I can’t help but wonder why I’m being asked to disrupt my normal schedule and go to my precinct to vote in a special election on a weird date like August 2.  There’s nothing about Issue 1 that is an emergency — indeed, the precincts that would be created if Issue 1 were to pass haven’t even been drawn yet — and in just three months we’ll be going to the polls to vote for President.  Presidential elections traditionally get the highest turnout; the election today will likely attract only a tiny fraction of the voters who will go to the polls in November.  And, according to the Columbus Dispatch, holding a special election to vote on just this one issue will cost the city about $1 million.  So why not save the $1 million, add Issue 1 to the November ballot, and have an important initiative voted on by a larger percentage of Columbus voters?

I’m not sure precisely why City Council set this special election and decided to use money from city coffers to pay for it, but whenever “special elections” are held on odd dates I always wonder whether somebody is gaming the system.  If you can get your pet issue on the ballot for an election held on an unusual date, when people aren’t expecting to vote and turnout will be ridiculously low, and you’ve got a solid core of people who feel very strongly about the issue and will cast their ballots come hell or high water, you’ve substantially increased your chances of reaching the result you’re hoping for.

So today I’ll go to the polls, sign in, press one button to exercise my franchise, get my “I voted today” sticker, and hit the road.  I’ll be glad to cast my vote against Issue 1 — but I can’t help but feel that I’ve been manipulated somehow.

Talking About Trump (Or Conversing About Clinton)

After this week, we’ll begin the final stretch of the presidential campaign between two candidates who have actually been nominated by their respective parties.  I’m glad that the calendar pages are turning, because I just want this election to be over.  I don’t think we can withstand much more of the level of vitriol that’s being hurled back and forth.

I’m not talking about the two campaigns, either.  I’m talking about what we’re seeing from the masses, from our friends and colleagues, from Facebook pages and emails.  You can’t even talk about politics without seeing, and hearing, evidence of it.  Many people obviously find it impossible to talk about the candidates without lapsing into flaming, superheated language — the kind that people don’t easily forget.

hqdefaultThe anti-Trump group loathe The Donald and honestly seem to believe that only utterly ignorant racists and fascists could possibly consider voting for the guy.  The anti-Clinton folks are revolted by Hillary’s duplicity and corruption; they think the media is in the tank for her and the elites are trying to fix the election for her.  It’s coarse and visceral stuff, and a lot of bitterness on both sides is leaking out into our daily discourse.

I don’t care about the two candidates.  They are both egregiously flawed and deserve the strident criticism they’re getting.  No, I’m more concerned about the average people out there who are choosing sides, and doing so in a way that seems to leave no room for quarter or disagreement.  I wonder how many long-time friendships will be ruined and how many families will be splintered by the harsh language and even more harsh judgments.  If you are to the point that you think Trump will be the next Hitler, are you going to want to hang out with a guy who wants to vote him into office — even if it’s a guy you’ve known and worked with for 20 years?

The old saying about the wisdom of not talking about politics or religion has never been truer.  It used to be that people of good will at different points on the political spectrum could have a good-natured discussion about who they were voting for, and why.  I’m not sure that is even possible this year.

In our personal lives, we need to declare a truce, and take politics off the table.  Talk about your kids, talk about your travels, talk about sports — talk about just about anything other than the awful choice that we must make come November.  Hold your fire, folks!  That way, at the ground level of our everyday existence, maybe we’ll be able to make it through this flaming car wreck of an election.

Why I’m Voting For John Kasich

Tomorrow morning I’ll walk down to my voting place in Schiller Park, show my driver’s license and sign my name in the ledger book, and then touch the screen for John Kasich in the Ohio Republican primary election.  And after I do, I’ll be especially proud to walk out with that “I voted today” sticker.

I think John Kasich has been a perfectly fine governor.  I haven’t agreed with everything he’s done, and my friends on the left side of the spectrum have objected to many of his initiatives and decisions, but Ohio has done pretty well while he’s been in office.  Even more important, Ohio has continued to adhere to its traditional Midwestern political sensibilities during the Kasich Administration, which means politics that are largely non-confrontational and a bit boring.  Normally, you wouldn’t call continuing that approach an accomplishment, but these are not normal times.  When I see people getting into fistfights at political rallies, and candidates shouting over each other and even bragging about their sexual potency during debates, it reminds me that the dull, consensus-oriented, Ohio approach to politics has a lot to recommend to the country as a whole.

image_votingAnd I’ll be blunt — in casting my ballot for John Kasich, I’m mostly voting against someone, too.  Some people bemoan elections where they have to chose between the “lesser of two evils” and even talk about how they might not vote because none of the candidates sufficiently inspire them.  Not me!  I’ve never had illusions about perfect politicians, or believed that candidates would or could cure all of our problems.  In the vast majority of presidential elections, I’ve pulled the level based on my own cold-eyed analysis of which candidate would do the least amount of harm to a country that has been an important source of freedom, strength, and good in the world.  And it will be that way, again, tomorrow.

So when I vote for John Kasich, I’ll do so in hopes that my one vote might help Kasich beat Donald Trump in the Ohio primary and keep Trump from being the Republican candidate for President.  Donald Trump obviously doesn’t mind offending people, and he’s offended me.  I’ve been offended by his insult-oriented approach to politics, I’ve been offended by his rank appeals to the worst impulses in people, and most of all I’ve been offended by his unprincipled, know-nothing positions on the issues.  I can’t imagine such a vacuous, conceited blowhard as the standard-bearer for a major party, much less as President.  By so obviously not doing his homework and developing even a rudimentary understanding of the issues, Trump has shown nothing but contempt for our political processes. Tomorrow, I get to show my contempt for him in the most important way a citizen can.

I’m not alone in this.  Yesterday I got an email from a friend who said he would be doing the same thing come Tuesday, and I’ve spoken to another friend who will, too.  I’d be willing to bet that many other Ohioans feel exactly the same way.  Who knows?  Maybe Ohio will make a statement on Tuesday, and maybe this time it will be heard.

Iowa Is Weird

Kish and I spent last night watching the news networks’ breathless coverage of the Iowa caucuses (“Tonight, America finally casts its first votes of 2016!”) and we came away with one overwhelming reaction:  Iowa is weird.  In fact, it’s very weird.

It’s not the people of Iowa who are weird, of course — it’s the process.  Rather than trooping off to the private voting booths like the rest of us, Iowans employ a strange caucus system that requires you to leave your home at night in the dead of winter, sit in different corners of a church or hall, and yawn through speeches by supporters of the different candidates.  This year, if you were a Republican caucusgoer, that meant enduring speeches by supporters of 11 different candidates before your vote is counted.

usa-elections-iowa-caucusHow many of us would put up with that appalling time-suck, and how many perfectly rational Iowans who would otherwise vote the normal way decide to skip the caucuses?  The answer is:  a lot.  Even with all of the media hype about record turnouts for the caucuses, the fact is that only a fraction of the Iowans who vote in the general election participate in the caucuses.

But the caucuses are even weirder as a result of the 24-hour media machine.  Last night we watched as reporters and cameras prowled caucus sites, shouldering their ways between voters and actually recording Iowans trying to convince each other to change their allegiances.  Of course, most of us like the idea of casting a private ballot in a voting booth (or what passes for a voting booth these days) and would no more want a camera recording our every move as we exercised our franchise than we would want to watch a 24-hour marathon of Barney episodes.  The caucus participants also were heavily “entrance-polled.”  And at least some Iowans have become so wedded to the supposed importance of their caucuses that they say that the amount of time a candidate physically spends in Iowa is a factor in their ultimate decision — while others earnestly assure the rest of America that they take seriously their role as “first voters.”  (Stay humble, Iowa!)

So let the pundits talk about how the Iowa caucuses are really a good way to start the process, because candidates need to get out and press the flesh and do “town halls” and eat with the locals at diners and rub elbows with the evangelicals at church.  In reality, the demographics of the participants in the bizarre Iowa caucus process aren’t remotely representative of those of the rest of the country, and the caucus process itself no doubt exacerbates the discrepancy.

This year the caucuses will serve a useful purpose of winnowing out the fields; Martin O’Malley on the D side and Mike Huckabee on the R side both “suspended their campaigns” after dismal showings, and hopefully more faltering candidates on the overcrowded Republican side will throw in the towel, too.  But don’t expect me to care too much about the results, otherwise.  (Although, if I were a Hillary Clinton supporter, I’d be concerned that she barely beat Bernie Sanders and got less than 50 percent of the caucusgoers support after being the prohibitive, well-heeled favorite for months.)  Let’s move on now to states where they hold real elections, shall we?

Terrible Ted’s Voter Shaming

I’m one of those people who think Ted Cruz is not “likable.”  In fact, he looks and often sounds like the kind of guy who is so single-minded about succeeding that he would happily climb over the bodies of his former allies to get to the top.  Anyone who has gone to law school knows that personality type and shudders when they think of it.

twitterSo I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that the Cruz campaign in Iowa would do something like obtain voting data — which is available a matter of public record in Iowa — and then prepare individualized mailings headed “VOTING VIOLATION” and designed to look like official citations from state voting officials.  The mailing lists the name of the recipient and the percentage of times they have voted and gives them a “grade,” and — even worse — names the recipient’s neighbors and gives their voting percentages and “grades,” too.

Iowa’s Secretary of State, Paul D. Pate, has strongly criticized the mailing, calling it misleading. “Accusing citizens of Iowa of a ‘voting violation’ based on Iowa caucus participation, or lack thereof, is false representation of an official act,” Mr. Pate said. “There is no such thing as an election violation related to frequency of voting. Any insinuation or statement to the contrary is wrong and I believe it is not in keeping in the spirit of the Iowa caucuses.”  The Cruz campaign, for its part, pooh-poohs the issue and says that such a mailing is “common practice,” and Ted Cruz himself said he would “apologize to nobody for using every tool we can to encourage Iowa voters to come out and vote.”  (Why does that reaction not surprise me?)

Some people — like the guy who tweeted his mailing, shown above, and declared he was now caucusing for Marco Rubio — have reacted negatively to the mailing, which they think is trying to shame them, in front of their neighbors, into participating in the Iowa caucuses on Monday.  I’m not surprised.  Such a mailing would piss me off, too, and I vote in every election and therefore presumably should get a good voting “grade.”

I think, for Ted Cruz, this kind of mailing strikes at the deeper issue of just what kind of jerk he seems to be.  If Cruz is willing to try to publicly embarrass average people to try to get what he wants, where would he draw the line — if anywhere — if he were elected President?  People like to believe they can live their private lives without being put under a microscope or having their actions held up for ridicule by politicians who are already far too intrusive in our everyday affairs.  Now Ted Cruz thinks it is okay to try to shame people to their neighbors?  If I were an Iowan, it would definitely be something I would think about come caucus time.

Off To Vote

The polls open in Ohio in a few minutes, and I’ll be heading off to cast my ballot before walking in to work.

There’s a certain sense of adventure in going to a new polling place — in our case, the Schiller Recreation Center in Schiller Park — and in this instance we’re not only changing voting locations, we’ve also changed from suburban voters to urban voters.  For the first time, after working in Columbus for 30 years, we get to actually vote for the Mayor of Columbus, the City Council, and the School Board — as well as a modest slate of judges, state issues, and local tax levies.  How can I pass up the opportunity to be heard about how my city should be governed?

I’m looking forward to exercising my franchise and getting my “I voted” sticker, and I hope that other Americans are, as well.  Get out and vote, people!

Vote, Or We’ll Shoot This Dog

In a few minutes I’ll be heading to the polls.  I vote because it makes me feel good and because I view it as every eligible American’s civic duty — but I draw the line at sending weirdly threatening letters to people who don’t exercise their franchise.

That’s what happened in the Empire State, where the New York Post reports that the New York State Democratic Committee sent letters to voters promising to check on whether they had gone to the polls.  The letter says: “Who you vote for is your secret. But whether or not you vote is public record.”  It adds that “We will be reviewing voting records . . . to determine whether you joined your neighbors who voted in 2014.”  As a parting shot, the letter states:  “If you do not vote this year, we will be interested to hear why not.”

Apparently this kind of voter turnout technique is called “voter shaming” and has been used in other states.  The New York version, though, has an edge of menace and personal accountability designed to ensure maximum effectiveness.  It reminds me of the classic National Lampoon cover with a gun being held to a worried dog’s head and the tagline:  “If you don’t buy this magazine we’ll kill this dog.”  One can almost imagine thuggish, pin-striped representatives of the New York State Democratic Committee knocking on doors and saying:  “Nice little neighborhood you got here.  Be a shame if anything were to happen to it.”

Apparently “voter shaming” has been effective in some places.  I hope it’s effective in New York, too — and the people who got that over-the-top letter all go to the polls and vote against every Democratic candidate, to send a message to the strong-arming jerks who presumed to try to intimidate them into voting in the first place.

As for everyone who lives outside of New York and didn’t receive a “voter shaming” letter, I hope you vote for the candidate of your choice because it’s the right thing to do.

The Local Politics Information Gap

Today was Election Day in Ohio.  In New Albany, we had a very thin ballot:  no state or county issues, a few judicial contests — and races for local offices.

IMG_5340They say all politics is local, and there’s some truth to that.  Decisions made by small-town councils, by school boards, and by other local government instrumentalities can have a profound and immediate impact on you and your neighbors.  Why is it so difficult, then, to get meaningful information about local government races?

For national and statewide races, we’re bombarded with information.  Commercials flood the airwaves.  Fliers are sent in the mail and left under the front doormat.  Reporters and bloggers cover the candidates’ every word for months.  By the time the big day rolls around, voters have experienced total information overload.

For local races, however, the opposite is true.  There are no commercials or door-to-door missives.  There might be a story or two in the local weekly newspaper, and perhaps a candidates’ forum — but who has time to attend one of those?  So you pay particular attention to the views of your neighbors, even to the point of trying to remember which signs are displayed in the yards of neighbors who seem like intelligent, thoughtful people whose judgment you can trust.

I always vote, and today was no exception — but I always feel that my vote on local races is much less informed than my vote on more prominent races, and that bothers me.  I wonder whether this information gap is why so few people vote in “off-year” elections where only local offices are on the ballot.

A Plague Of Disillusionment

Fellow blogger Elroy Jones has a piece out today about being deceived — in this case, by President Obama.  She voted for him twice, and she’s feeling bamboozled.

I wonder how many other supporters of President Obama are feeling a similar, profound disillusionment.  I know many people — including members of my immediate family — voted for the President with great excitement because they expected a lot from him.  In fact, they expected a President who would realize dramatic change, turn around the world’s perception of our country, and achieve historic greatness.  In my view, at least, that hasn’t happened.

What must be even more galling is that many of the people who voted for President Obama did so largely because they wanted to reverse course from the Bush years.  That hasn’t happened, either.  More and more, it has developed that President Obama has adhered to the security policies established by the Bush Administration and, in some cases, expanded and amplified them.

When people criticize actions like the NSA’s routine collection of reams of data about ordinary Americans, and the Obama Administration’s defense is that the programs were begun under the Bush Administration, how is that received by Obama voters who hoped for change?  Do they suddenly develop a deeper respect for the policies of President George W. Bush, or do they scratch their heads and wonder why they voted for a guy who promised so much and seems to have delivered so little?